Sustainable water cities optimizing urban water use

Arcadis’ new Sustainable Cities Water Index identifies which cities around the world harness their water assets to their greatest long-term advantage. Based on three main themes of resilience, efficiency and quality the Water Index ranked Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Toronto, Frankfurt, Sydney, Birmingham and Manchester as the world’s 10 most sustainable cities for water.

What makes these cities stand out is they all manage their water in ways that ensure all users – residential, industrial, commercial and institutional – receive safe, reliable and easily accessible water. Additionally, these cities provide reliable access to sanitation and protect their waterways from pollution. The leading cities also ensure their water systems are resilient and adaptable to climatic extremes.

One of the key aspects of the Water Index is that it should help inform future improvement and long-term water sustainability of all cities around the world. One area the Water Index recommends all cities improve on is optimizing urban water use.

Smart, sustainable water-using cities

Smart, sustainable water-using cities

Optimizing urban water use through demand management

Optimizing urban water use can be achieved through demand management, which is the better use of existing water supplies before plans are made to further increase supply. Demand management promo­tes water conservation, during times of both normal conditions and uncertainty, through changes in practices, cultures and people’s attitudes towards water resources.

In addition to the environmental benefits of preserving ecosystems and their habitats, demand management is cost-effective compared to supply-side management because it allows the better allocation of scarce financial resources, which would otherwise be required to build expensive dams, water transfer schemes from one river basin to another, and desalination plants.

Cities can use two types of demand management tools to optimize their water resources:

  • Communication and informational tools aim to change behavior through public awareness campaigns around the need to conserve scarce water resources. Examples include water-focused school education, public workshops on water efficiency, social media campaigns on water conservation
  • Economic and regulatory tools invol­ve setting allocation and water-use limits in addition to providing incentives for all water users to conserve water and use it efficiently. Examples include conservation ordinances, pricing of water and wastewater, rebates for water-efficient appliances and water-efficient product labelling

The take-out

Cities can optimize their current urban water supplies through demand management strategies that involve communication and informational as well as economic and regulatory tools.

*Robert C. Brears is the author of Urban Water Security (Wiley). Urban Water Security argues that, with climate change and rapid urbanization, cities need to transition from supply-side to demand-side management to achieve urban water security.

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Author: Robert C. Brears

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